Reprimand won’t stop Murdoch’s contempt
The headlines screaming from London tell the story: Murdoch “unfit” to run News Corp. The Commons committee that summoned the 81-year-old media magnate to explain how his newspapers came to hack the phones of everyone from Prince William to Paul McCartney has given its damning verdict.
Rupert Murdoch “turned a blind eye and exhibited willful blindness to what was going on in his companies” and his instinct “was to cover up rather than seek out wrongdoing and discipline the perpetrators.” The bottom line? “Rupert Murdoch is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company.” So much for Murdoch’s attempt to pose as an affable old codger with too much on his mind to notice the lawbreaking done in his name. So much for, “This is the most humble day of my life.”
The meticulous politeness of the legislators who called him to account belied their more serious intent, to express in vivid and purposeful language the horror and disgust the British now have for the Murdoch family. The old man’s hideous talent for serving up salacious scandal and bare breasts in abundance in his “family” newspapers disguised his more sinister aim. Under the guise of providing bread and circuses for the masses, Murdoch allowed journalists and, when they proved incapable of thievery, private eyes to dig the dirt on Britain’s good and great, the better to compromise them when he needed a business favor.
When Tom Watson, a member of the Commons committee, expressed surprise that James Murdoch was unaware of the lawbreaking going on under his nose – “You must be the first mafia boss in history who didn’t know he was running a criminal enterprise” – Murdoch Jr. gave a petulant sigh, “Oh, Mr. Watson!” like a matron whose bottom had been tweaked. But to Watson it was elementary. The Murdochs have been running a protection racket in Britain for the last 30 years, and those who have stood in the way of Rupert’s business ambitions, or failed to pay enough obeisance to him, or merely dared hold a different view from him, have been roundly trashed with his wholehearted consent.
Surely someone who has been caught blackmailing legislators, who had to put up or face a smearing, might be expected to change course, to admit wrongdoing, at least to promise to do better in the future. But as we saw from his defiant appearance before Lord Justice Leveson in a second British legal inquiry into press standards last week, Rupert Murdoch is unbowed. Once an Australian, then a Brit, now an American, he revels in his outsider status and his inability to fully join society.
He has contempt for those who have qualms about his brutal take on the news and his cynical approach to his readers – “Let them watch nonsense! Let them read filth!” He has no intention of tempering his behavior or calling off his dogs. Brought up to believe he can do no wrong and that he is cleverer than the rest of us – “Rupert has a very big brain,” his mother, Dame Elisabeth, proudly tells strangers – he blames his recent difficulties on his commercial rivals and his political enemies.
Besides, he and his immediate family own 40 percent of News Corp.’s voting stock. Mere investors can talk to the hand, because he is determined to carry on as before. That means ignoring what the toffee-nosed Brits say about his stewardship of his own company. What’s it to do with them? He will hold on to his British newspapers, even though his board would prefer he cut them loose to avoid the nagging embarrassment they cause. He will continue to browbeat his editors, suggest lines of argument, name those he thinks should be encouraged and those he wants destroyed.
The only dark cloud on the horizon is the slow-moving American investigations into his methods. So far News Corp. has dumped 60,000 emails with the Department of Justice investigators who have been commissioned to discover whether the wholesale phone hacking that drove his British properties was employed on American soil. He also has a trio of senators – Boxer, Rockefeller and Lautenberg – on his tail, eager to discover whether there has been contagion across the Atlantic. Until then, Murdoch will steam on, a hungry fox at large in the hen coop.
PHOTO: News Corporation Chief Executive and Chairman Rupert Murdoch leaves after giving evidence at the Leveson Inquiry at the High Court in London, April 26, 2012. REUTERS/Olivia Harris/file photo